Special deal needed to take out-of-district Web classes
Special deal is required to take out-of-district online courses
Annie Mulligan / For The Herald
Bobbie Bouma, 12, listens to her coach during swim practice Wednesday. Bobbie's parents hoped to enroll her in online classes, but because Everett schools don't have an agreement with the district that offers the courses, she wouldn't be able to attend her local school. She could, however, join the high school swim team when she's older.
Bobbie's parents, Susan Shannon and Calvin Bouma, watch her at swim practice Wednesday.
In Washington, more than 18,500 students took at least one online course in the 2010-11 school year.
Yet one Everett family has found that a decision on whether to sign their daughter up for online classes raises issues they never anticipated.
If they enroll their 12-year-old daughter, Bobbie Bouma, in out-of-district online classes for seventh grade this September, it will prevent her from participating in courses such as drama, band or physical education at her neighborhood bricks-and-mortar school.
Susan Shannon said she first began considering the online option after Bobbie was bullied several times at school.
Bobbie's grades began to slip, and she asked her mom to consider home schooling.
Shannon said she looked at what options were available and thought she had found the perfect answer: online classes offered through Washington Virtual Academies.
The company contracts with the Steilacoom, Monroe and Omak school districts to provide online courses.
For the upcoming school year, only the program offered through the Omak School District has courses for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Monroe's program typically is limited to high school students. More than 800 students from 131 school districts are taking courses through WAVA, said Rosemary O'Neil, school district spokeswoman.
Shannon was preparing to sign up her daughter for WAVA's online courses through the Omak School District. But in April, she received an email informing her that there wasn't a cooperative agreement with the Everett School District.
This meant that her daughter could take academic courses online, but wouldn't be able to take in-school classes, such as gym and band. She could, however, join the local high school's swim team.
Funding is the main reason online students can't attend classroom courses. The Everett School District gets $5,350 for each full-time student, said Terry Edwards, chief academic officer.
The district doesn't split this allocation with students who are enrolled in another district.
"You're in or you're out" of the school district, Edwards said.
The Everett School District has its own online program, but it is limited to high school students.
The state's 295 school districts each decide whether they want to split student time -- and funding -- with another school district, often on a case-by-case basis, said Karl Nelson, director of the digital learning department for the state superintendent.
Essentially, if Shannon enrolled her daughter in the online program, Bobbie would be transferring to the Omak School District, he said, even though she would be taking the online classes at home. Omak would receive all the state's per-pupil funding and would be responsible for statewide testing, and for tracking progress toward graduation.
If a student wants to take some in-school classes and some online from another school district, the two districts need to sign an agreement and decide how to share the state funding for that student, Nelson said.
Without a formal agreement between the two school districts, there's no legal way to split the money, Nelson said.
The Everett School District has made the decision not to sign these types of agreements with other school districts. In addition to money issues, it also would complicate who's responsible for the state testing and student tracking, Edwards said.
"Other school districts are already doing it in Washington state," Shannon said. "Why is this a difficulty when it's so beneficial to my daughter and others like her?"
The reason the same issues aren't raised with home-schooled students is that the student remains enrolled in the district, Nelson said.
In the Everett School District, home-schooled students are enrolled in the Port Gardner Home School Partnership Program. Neither the enrollment nor the state funding is split with another district, Edwards said.
When signing up a student for online classes, the parent must fill out a form saying they understand it is not a home-schooling program, Nelson said.
Currently, 4,052 students are enrolled in WAVA classes, nearly 3,000 of whom are enrolled in kindergarten through eighth-grade classes, said Mark Christiano, who oversees the program.
Statewide, 179 school districts have signed agreements with WAVA, giving students the ability to take classes both online and in their own school district, he said.
While state law makes provision for alternative learning programs, including online courses, funding and other issues can prevent it from happening.
"So it's really not fulfilling the law, if you ask me," Shannon said.
The Office of Superintedent of Public Instruction has information to guide parents who are considering signing their child up for online courses at: digitallearning.k12.wa.us/about/parents/.
The state's Office of Education Ombudsman resolves complaints, disputes, and problems between families and elementary and secondary public schools. For more information, go to www.governor.wa.gov/oeo or call 866-297-2597.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or email@example.com